Red Oak volleyball players choose friendship over big-money scholarships

RED OAK — When Tapanga Moten, a lifelong basketball player, and her family moved to Red Oak from New Orleans, Louisiana, she never expected to play volleyball.


She also never expected she would find her best friend staring across the court at her during the first day of practice.


The Lady Hawks dynamic duo of Moten and Aisja Jones signed National Letters of Intent on Wednesday at Red Oak High School, turning down more than a dozen full scholarships in favor of maintaining their sisterly bond and playing volleyball together at Raleigh, North Carolina’s Shaw University.


“Playing volleyball was actually a mistake at first,” Moten said about some gentle prodding to change sports as a sophomore and first-year ROHS student. “I kind of got thrown into volleyball, but that’s when I met Aisja.”


Throughout the three years they spent together, each said they helped the other hone the volleyball skills necessary to accomplish the goal of playing NCAA- and Olympic-level volleyball.


Iron sharpens iron, Moten said.


Since their sophomore year, the girls and their teammates won bi-district, area and regional championships and reached the 4A regional championship round once. Despite only playing volleyball for three years, Moten received a district 14-5A All-District Honorable Mention.


During the three years the two girls spent roaming the halls of the high school, they developed a bond strong enough to supersede money scholarships and distance from their families.


“When we met, we just clicked. Coach (Hope) Porter put her in volleyball even though she wanted to play basketball,” Aisja said about turning down multiple offers — including a five-year scholarship from Midwestern State University — while chuckling softly and shooting a glance toward her friend. “She’s goofy just like me. I don’t want to leave my best friend, it’s too hard to find another one like her.”


Topanga’s mother and father, Mike and Juanara Williams, said though the move to the sport was a complete surprise, they all have been blessed by the girls’ friendship and the doors Red Oak has opened for them.


“We moved to here to give the kids better educational opportunities,” Juanara said. “They seemed held back in New Orleans. Though the game of volleyball was known, the training wasn’t available unless you attended a private school, where the best trainers taught. Nor is the game as important or talked about as basketball. Here you can find training in every city, but in New Orleans opportunities are few and far between.”


“We didn’t know what to expect when we got here,” Mike added. “Our goal was to get her into something active. The coaches wanted her here, but they wanted her to make a choice. Basketball was her first love, but the more she played volleyball, the more she fell in love with it. So much so that she chose to leave basketball alone and focus solely on volleyball.”


Tuskegee, Midwestern State, Southern and Alabama, West Texas and Prairieview A&M universities were only a few scholarships Aisja and Moten declined in favor of Shaw University, a Division II NCAA competitor and the oldest historically black college and university in the southern United States.


“I’m an emotional guy. It finally hit me like a ton of bricks that my baby’s not going to be here,” Mike continued. “She had offers from other schools and I really didn’t want her to go that far away from home, but we decided it’s what’s best for her and where she’ll feel comfortable. Just to see her evolve and make decisions for herself and watch doors open for her is an amazing moment for a father.”


All told they passed up more than an average of $61,704 in fully paid for tuition, books, fees and housing to attend Shaw University, valued at $117, 512 for four years of out-of-state educational charges, according to the university’s website.


While students part ways to begin college and careers, and watch the friendships they built fade as high school relationships often do, Aisja and Moten’s sister act will be stronger than ever.


LaToya Jones, an ROISD teacher and Aisja’s mother, said that bond hasn’t only affected the girls’ futures, it’s shaped a friendship that extends past the students and into their families, noting the families are already in the process of planning a trip to the Outer Banks, a 200-mile long vacation destination stretching from Virgina Beach to the barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina.


“They’ve been thick as thieves since the day they met,” said LaToya. “They’ve always wanted to play college ball together and didn’t want to separate. The coach at Shaw wanted them together because they play so well beside one another. So when they visited Shaw University and the coach offered them both scholarships, that was it.


“We’ve all become very close in a short three years. I’m excited that she’s (Aisja) not afraid to leave and it makes me feel a lot better knowing she’s going with her best friend and they’ll take care of each other.”


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